Somewhere deep within all of us we feel that we are "fuckin’ brilliant," better than the rather mediocre life we lead and maybe even too good for our rather mediocre partner. "Once" has become an indy film hit because it captures the dream of the independent artist and the angst filled soul.
When festivals like Sundance started paying attention to "Once," every bloke with a video camera who considers himself an independent filmmaker did as well.
The film was an early example of video transferred to film for distribution, and it looked much better than "Pieces of April" or "Tadpole" because it was shot on HDV.
Here was a movie shot for only a $160,000 with a pro-sumer video camera. It was shot with long lenses and natural light on the streets of Dublin. Producers didn’t pay for film permits, they used non-professional actors and often the extras didn’t even know they were being filmed.
"If ’Once’ can be successful," thought the average person, "with a camera that cost between $2,000 and $4,000, I could buy that camera and do what they did." But "Once" is more than just part of a technical revolution; the narrative was custom built for the artist/dreamer.
A nameless Dublin busker (he’s simply called "Guy," Glen Hansard) meets an odd Czech immigrant flower seller ("Girl," Markéta Irglová) and mistakes her persistent friendliness for flirting. But when he asks her to spend the night she tells him to fuck off.
She’s married to a man in the Czech Republic and has daughter. He is separated from his partner and doesn’t really want to go into the reasons why, so romance is not in the stars for them, but they connect musically.
She continues to encourage him as an artist, and they set out to make a demo CD. The flirtation continues as well. Though the romance seems it will always be angst filled and unrequited, they give each other something much more than a traditional coupling. She brings him to the precipice of a successful career, and he finds a way to give her something that just may encourage her own musical career.
What "Once" has that the average indy filmmaker doesn’t is the phenomenal music of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, which composes about 60% of the drama’s 85 minutes and won an Academy Award, Grammy Awards, (and, with the release of the Broadway musical, Tonys too.)
Director John Carney, a musician himself, became friends with the lead actor while working as a bassist for Hansard’s band The Frames. Though Carney originally wanted an actor to play the role (Cillian Murphy), his casting of the films songwriters in the leading roles was one of the best things to come out of the years of development this movie went though before it was produced.
Carney let his actors improvise much of the script, and an important revelation in the story comes out of this spontaneous discovery. (But only people who speak Czech can discover this, as the revelation isn’t subtitled.) This is one of the many fascinating things about the process you can learn when you watch the special features: two making-of documentaries ("More Guy, More Girl" and "Making of a Modern Day Musical") and commentaries with John Carney, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
How does "Once," a movie shot on HDV in 1080i then uprezzed to 35mm film, look on a 1080p transfer in 1.84:1 aspect ratio? Not bad actually. This film isn’t trying to have a sleek Hollywood picture. The handheld camera and the other naturalistic qualities of the film make it look more like a documentary than a feature film. And for this movie that works marvelously.